Plot vs Arc: Effecting Change

April 24, 2012

The pen is mightier than the sword, it just depends on how well you wield it.

The idea of Plot gives a lot of writers apoplexy…especially if they hear some scabby editor mention the weakness of said plot.

Plot is defined as the events that make up the story, particularly as they relate to one another through cause and effect. Yes yes, it all sounds so simple, right? Heh.

The problem that I see with a few queries that cross my desk is that they do have a plot, but it lacks interest because writers don’t necessarily grab the concept of cause and effect. It feels more like a science experiment. We always blabber on about conflict and resolution, but many don’t really get it.

So I thought maybe an easier way to explain things is to talk about Arc, which I see is missing in many queries that cross my desk. Arc, is defined as an extended or continuing storyline. In other words, the driving force that runs throughout the book.

Now here’s the kicker:  The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change.

Where you have CHANGE, you have CONFLICT. Because, hey, no one changes without conflict. Something happens to ignite that change. Does that make sense?

Since I specialize in memoir/biography, I see many works that have no arc. Just because you’re writing someone’s biography doesn’t mean there isn’t an arc at play. Let’s use an example. Our book THE NEXT 15 MINUTES: STRENGTH FROM THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN is a riveting story about Kim Kircher coming face to face with her husband’s near-fatal illness and finding a way to be strong for herself and her husband.

This isn’t a linear story where Kim’s story remains unchanged. She goes from Point A to Point B because of her husband’s illness. She went from idyllic, to holy shit, to a state of grace. That is arc. Few make a conscious decision to effect change – they are dragged into it kicking and screaming. That makes good reading because we’re all in the same boat.

Fiction is no different. If your character never evolves or has change forced upon him, then what’s the draw? What’s the point?

If you’re struggling with plotting, maybe it would be helpful to consider the arc – the driving force that effects change. That is where conflict takes place because change can suck stale Twinkie cream, and it can kick up your plot a notch or three.


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